Stunted by Sexuality

Worldview and You

friends“Does gay marriage harm anyone?”

That question keeps getting asked, and the assumption in the courts and media seems to be that it doesn’t. It’s a hard opinion to sustain, in my view, especially now that I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s “Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity.”

Esolen’s 12 arguments revolve around virtue: not virtue as stuffy prudishness, as it’s now reputed to be, but virtue in its older sense of thoroughgoing goodness of life. “Virtue” is a strong word. It’s a virile word, where virility is called for, and a tender word where tenderness is due. It’s about living well by (pardon the grammar) living good. It can be a very passionate word, for one can certainly be passionate about goodness. In all those areas it is under attack, including, surprisingly, the area of passion.

Esolen’s fifth argument is a good example of how this attack on virtue harms us all. It’s largely a rewrite of his 2005 Touchstone article “A Requiem for Friendship”; it can also be found in shorter form in another of his Touchstone articles. The point, in short, is that endorsing open acceptance of homosexual relationships means the death of ordinary friendship between members of the same sex, especially men. “Friendship, rest in peace,” he says.

Why would he say that, you ask? I ask, why have more of us not recognized what’s going on, as Esolen has?

I was blessed with great male friendships as a youth and young man. I had at least one close male friend at every school I attended and in every city where I lived, until I got married in my 30th year. Three of these men were roommates of mine.

But look out. There are dangerous words there. “Roommates.” “Men.” Does that pairing carry the same easy innocence it did 25 years ago? No, it’s tainted now with the question, “Are you . . . were you . . . ?”

Now the answer to that in my case, of course, is . . .

But wait! Why would I bother to answer that? I didn’t have to, back then. Now, though, if two men share a home in your neighborhood, you’re likely to draw conclusions, or at least wonder, aren’t you? The kind of friendships I enjoyed in those days would be considered suspicious now.

Widespread homosexuality drapes a layer of confusion over friendships, especially for younger boys and girls asking themselves (as I never had to ask), “If I really like this friend, does that mean I’m gay?” It makes closeness confusing.

I spent a summer in Beijing many years ago, where I made a friend named Xiao. One day Xiao and I went for a walk across Tian An Men Square. He reached out to hold hands with me as we walked—a perfectly ordinary expression of male friendship there in China. Let me tell you, I felt uncomfortable! But I accepted his gesture. To do otherwise would have been to reject his friendship. How many young men are distancing themselves from others, just because the mere appearance of friendship risks communicating the same kind of thing I felt uncomfortable about that day in Beijing?

Hindering friendship harms all of us. Esolen puts it this way:

"It is one thing to say that it has made friendships among boys more distant and difficult, and to suppose that that is a bad thing for the emotional lives of those boys. It is quite another—and it takes someone willing to see through our jaded dalliance with androgyny—to see that the loss of such friendships stunts the boys intellectually and goes a long way towards depriving everybody of the benefits that such intellectual development used to provide."

He explores a dozen things boys or men might have done together as comrades, partners, and friends in times past, and concludes:

"They might do a thousand things fascinatingly creative and dangerously destructive, but one thing they would not do. They would not, as our boys do now, stagnate. They would be alive."

He’s right, as far as I’ve been able to observe. We’ve made the physical passion of sex so definitive that we are smothering other human passion, including friendship. We’ve made it such an ideal good that it’s obscured other goods.

The heterosexual world led the way in this. Consider how the couple “hooking up” in college must pretend some sort of deep feeling to go with their physical act, or else pretend that emotional and physical passion have nothing to do with one another. Or consider the plainly false passion that accompanies pornography.

Once at the Orange County airport (this really happened, unlikely as it may seem) I was browsing the newsstand when a man dressed all in California creative style accosted me and suggested I pick up a copy of “Playboy.” I told him I wasn’t interested. He told me, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

I must admit, the response I gave him (“No, thanks, I’m a happily married man”) was a move in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough. What I could have said—what I wish I had said—was this: “No, you don’t know what you’re missing. You’re pushing me toward a relationship with paper women. I’m married to a real woman. You have physical relationships that come and go. I know what it’s like to love and to be loved in a relationship that goes all the way to the depths of our dreams, our joys, our failures, our pains, our successes, our past, and our future together. I’m sad to have to say it, but I don’t think you could imagine how strong and deep and satisfying that kind of relationship can be.”

Perhaps my greatest safeguard against adultery, next to my commitment to Christ and my covenant with my wife, has been the very dullness of the idea. What, should I relate to some woman in body only? How boring. How passionless. How stagnant-sounding. How dead.

We’re living today in the backdraft of a long campaign to elevate physical passion above all other goods, including goods like friendships growing in the open air, with no tense wind of sexuality swirling around them. It’s been a campaign to persuade governments to endorse same-sex friendship-including-sex above same-sex friendship-without-sex, as if government’s role were to endorse sex. It comes down, in the end, to a drive to value sex not only above religion (as has often been noted), but also above real friendship, real involvement, and even real passion.

Homosexual activism didn’t start us down this path, but it certainly is seeking to have it marked as the one right road to take. Its advocates say there’s no harm for society in it. They should read Esolen. Most of them probably won’t—but you can, and you’ll find yourself much better equipped to explain how the sexualizing of our culture, especially in same-sex relationships, has stunted us; and how old-fashioned virtue is a good that even a passionate man or woman can commend.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Tom Gilson is the national field director for Ratio Christi, the chief editor of True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism,” and the author/host of the Thinking Christian blog.

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